Vermont Land Trust and Passumpsic Valley Land TrustSupport Simmer Family Farm Expansion and Conservation along the Passumpsic River - The Caledonian-Record - St. Johnsbury, VT
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home : features : science and nature February 5, 2016

Vermont Land Trust and Passumpsic Valley Land TrustSupport Simmer Family Farm Expansion and Conservation along the Passumpsic River
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The Passumpsic River Valley has a rich heritage of agriculture and dairy farming. Since the 1700s, the river's bounty has provided local communities with respite from the summer's heat, nourishment from the fish caught in its clear waters and natural beauty to complement the surrounding farmland. On Nov. 13, the Vermont Land Trust and Passumpsic Valley Land Trust announced a joint collaboration that has permanently protected 111 acres of farmland spanning more than a mile of the Passumpsic River. This conservation project ensures that a local family farm can expand to include the next generation. It also protects significant river frontage with a riparian buffer and enhances recreational access for boaters and fishermen.

Tom and Ginny Simmer's 146 acre dairy farm, which is located in Barnet between the bustle of traffic on I-91 and the bucolic river, was conserved with Vermont Land Trust in 2006. Since that time the Simmer family's stewardship has been rewarded with a growing family-run operation. Due to the interest of their youngest son, Josh, in joining them to manage the family dairy business, they are now seeking to expand both their capacity and their family enterprise.

In the winter of 2012, a neighboring property, the Lamothe Farm, became available following the passing of dairy farmers George (in 2007) and Ginny Lamothe (in December 2011). George and Ginny and their family had operated the Lamothe Dairy Farm since 1954. Because of its proximity to the Simmers existing farm, the Lamothe's land is especially valuable to the Simmers. It provides them with valuable river bottom tillage (65 acres), infrastructure to support an increased herd size and additional housing for the farm. Conservation of the additional land is vital to the Simmer farm's expansion as it makes it affordable to continue as a dairy farm.

The Simmers own additional farmland in three discrete parcels along the I-91 and I-93 corridors in the towns of St. Johnsbury, Waterford and Barnet and this land is highly visible from both Interstates. It also includes over one mile of Passumpsic River frontage.

"This purchase is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us," said Tom Simmer. "Our family is grateful for the support of Lamothe family and the Vermont Land Trust to help make our expanded farm a viable and sustainable enterprise that our community can be proud of."

Because the Simmers are willing to provide public pedestrian access along the river frontage for the benefit of passing boaters, and to install 50 foot riparian buffers along the Passumpsic River, the Passumpsic Valley Land Trust became a partner in the conservation effort, providing critical funds for the project through a grant received from the Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.

"PVLT is pleased to be able to contribute to keeping a local dairying operation viable, while at the same time guaranteeing protection for a huge length of river corridor and access within it for anglers, hunters and paddlers," commented Lenny Gerardi, PVLT's treasurer. "We're optimistic that this will serve as an anchor for future Passumpsic River conservation efforts between St. Johnsbury and the Connecticut River."

The majority of funds necessary to purchase the development rights on the farm came from the Freeman Foundation. Vermont Land Trust will hold a perpetual conservation easement on the farmland.

In a time when the family farming tradition in Vermont is threatened, the Simmers have demonstrated their perseverance and hope for the future by investing in this expansion so that their family's farming tradition can be sustained for generations to come.

"It has been a pleasure working with the Simmers to first conserve their home farm, then to play a role in the expansion of their now inter-generational farm," said Tracy Zschau, the Vermont Land Trust's Northeast Kingdom Regional Director. "As a new generation plays a significant role in managing land in the Northeast Kingdom and across the state, the Vermont Land Trust is proud to support the desire by Vermonters to maintain traditional uses of the land such as agriculture and recreation."

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